John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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The Middleton Empire spoof

Early Days
“My mind went ‘click!’”
 1. “My mind went ‘click!’” is an expression that Jones used often enough to be talked about—and laughed about—on a number of occasions by Chris and me. He used it if something did not at first quite gel in his mind, but then suddenly fell into place.
 “—And my mind went ‘click!’” he would say, “and I realised that—” (whatever it was).

Perhaps summer 1963
 2. One such time was when the Middleton Empire episode was in full swing, and we decided to play a game on Jones. It seems likely that all four of us—Chris, Trevor, Peter Gooding and I—were together at my house when we did this. We decided that Jones really believed in this Middleton Empire—
 Of course, we didn’t believe in it; the whole notion that a gang of kids on bicycles had conquered several large towns and was headed this way was too ridiculous for words. We would fall about laughing at the thought of it. But we were of the opinion that Jones believed in it; so what we thought we would do, was to kid Jones that the invasion had begun, that the Middleton Empire was even now coming to take over.

 3. We would send Jones a “letter from Gerard”, from his “field headquarters” just outside Blackpool. Moss Side, to the south of Blackpool, seemed to be the ideal place to situate Gerard. It was as though he was camped before the very gates of the city of Blackpool, waiting to storm it.

Gerard’s putative location was Moss Side, Blackpool, in all likelihood the place shown as “Marton Moss Side” on the above map. The letter stated that Gerard and his troops would be at a certain point at a certain time—perhaps Four Lane Ends, Thornton, at some specified hour on Saturday morning. Four Lane Ends to us was not the crossroads marked “Four Lane Ends” on the map, but the crossroads some 2km north of that in Thornton.
 The letter had to be typed; Jones, we figured, would know Gerard’s handwriting. But that presented us with a problem: Jones might recognise the typing. I had two typewriters, a toy one and a real one.

A Mettoy “Minor” typewriter. I’m not sure which model mine was.
 The toy one, made by Mettoy, was made to look like a typewriter, but its “keys” were in fact printed on the tinplate body of the toy. It had a circular plastic head with a set of characters moulded into it; you had to turn the head to select the letter you required, then depress a lever to bring the head into contact with the paper through an inked ribbon stretched across the width of the paper. So it went crrrk! crrrk! crrrk! thump! as you turned the head against its ratchet, and then punched the lever down—a very slow and painstaking process. And it only had upper-case letters.

An Underwood typewriter, similar to mine
 My Christmas present at the end of 1962 from my Mum and Dad was a great big, black-framed Underwood typewriter. Jones had a portable typewriter, but because I realised that these were expensive I expressed a wish for a Petite toy typewriter from the Kay’s mail-order catalogue; these did have proper keys, and had both upper- and lower-case letters, but the resultant work was somewhat crude and uneven. The Underwood, which my Mum and Dad obtained second-hand, reconditioned, was much better than any such toy.
 Now in the days of The Game with Jones, most of the action had taken place at Davelyshome, and so it had been Jones’s typewriter which was the “teleprinter” reporting the progress of the war. But at least once the action had shifted to my house, when the Mettoy became the teleprinter. So there was the risk that Jones would remember this. Even so, we used the Mettoy not the Underwood for the letter from Gerard; perhaps the reason for this was that we had already recently used the Underwood for an abusive letter to Jones—the “Jammy Letter”, for example—and Jones would instantly recognise it. For whatever reason, we used the Mettoy, not the Underwood.

 4. The next evening, Chris arrived home, possibly again from my house, and his Mum said, “Oh, David’s upstairs, in your bedroom—David Jones.” Jones had called on Chris, and his Mum, thinking that Chris would be home shortly, and possibly not wishing to have to suffer Jones’s presence with her downstairs, sent him upstairs to wait for him.
 (Chris has the impression that this occurred after tea-time, so he may have been round at my house. One of the source documents suggests that Chris called round for me, but only stayed about half-an-hour before making his way home, because of too much homework. The source does not say who it was that had too much homework, but if it was Chris, that would explain why his Mum thought that he would be home shortly.)

 5. So Chris’s Mum told him this, and Chris immediately thought, “Uh, oh! Trouble!” Anyway, he went upstairs, opened the bedroom door—he still occupied the small front bedroom at this time—and there was Jones, sitting at the end of the bed with his back to Chris, looking out of the window. He was being very melodramatic. Chris bounced into the room. “Oh, hello, David!” he said, in as surprised and innocent a tone as he could summon.
 There was silence: a long pause.
 When Jones’s quietly-spoken voice finally made itself heard, it was cold and abrupt. “Why did you go round to Cooper’s last night?” he said.
 (If the reporting of Jones’s words here is accurate, this means that we must have posted the letter in time to catch the last post the previous evening. If Chris had been round at my house again this evening, one can imagine that he would have difficulty concealing the comicalness of the situation which now presented itself to him.)

 6. Chris began to protest and to lie. “Wha— What do you mean?” he spluttered.
 “Oh, come on, Chris!” Jones insisted, in the same quiet but stern voice. “Why did you go round to Cooper’s last night?” And suddenly, the letter appeared.
[1] Jones produced it as if from nowhere, and went on accusingly: “I’ve received this letter, purporting to be from Gerard—typed on Cooper’s typewriter.”
 Chris looked at the letter—stared at it hard, as if this was the first time he had seen it—and said, “I know nothing of this, David. I–I mean, why— what makes you think it’s from Cooper?”
[1] And suddenly, the letter appeared: A variant of the tale has Jones seated in the bedroom, with his back to Chris and the letter already visible in front of him.
 7. Then Jones turned round to face Chris, and told him what had happened when he received the letter. He gave a demonstration of how he ripped open the envelope and started to read the letter at the same time as he crumpled the envelope and threw it in the fire. The letter had at the top the words “Address as postmark”, and then proceeded to tell how the Middleton Empire was camped at Moss Side.
 “I never usually look at the postmark,” Jones told Chris, “but I thought, ‘Wait a minute! Let me have a look at that postmark...’” So he reached into the fireplace and retrieved the envelope, which hadn’t yet burned up. The postmark said: “Blackpool”.
 “And I looked at the postmark, and the typing, and my mind went ‘click!’
 “And I thought, ‘Just a minute!’, went upstairs
[2]—sample of Cooper’s typing—compare—”[3]
[2] And I thought, “Just a minute!”, went upstairs—: Here the sources of the story add: “Stonk! Stonk! Stonk!”, reflecting Jones’s habit of repeating onomatopoeic words when describing an activity.
[3] Compare: The addition here, in the sources, of “Compare! Compare! Compare!” is stretching Jones’s onomatopoeic tendency too far, I think.
 8. But Chris replied, “Well, what’s wrong with that, David?”, referring to the postmark, and still trying to bluff it out.
 “Why, the mistake you made,” said Jones, “was mentioning that he’s supposed to be camped at Moss Side. And yet the letter has a Blackpool postmark. Rather strange, don’t you think? Need I say more?”

“Need I say more?…”
 9. As well as “My mind went ‘click!’”, Jones had another famous saying: “Need I say more?” And often Jones’s logic was so tenuous or obscure that you felt like saying, “Yes, Jones, you need say more!”
 But if Jones indeed finished his reply to Chris on this occasion with the words “Need I say more?”, his meaning was crystal clear. Because he had read that the Middleton Empire was camped at Moss Side, he thought that the letter was supposed to have come from Manchester. (The only “Moss Side” that Jones had heard of, was the well-known one in Manchester.) Yet the letter had a Blackpool postmark, so he immediately became suspicious.
 But we hadn’t pretended that the letter had come from Manchester; we intended that the letter should have a Blackpool postmark to drive home to Jones how dangerously close his cousin was supposed to be.

 10. So Chris replied, “Well: Moss Side, Blackpool, David, surely!”
“What!” he said.
 “Oh, yes, look!—” Jones had never heard of Moss Side, Blackpool; so Chris went straight to the bureau, got a map of Blackpool out, opened it, and pointed to Moss Side.
 (Which Moss Side we pretended that Gerard was at, I can’t now remember. There is a Moss Side near Wrea Green, called on some maps “Brown Moss Side”, about midway between Kirkham and Lytham St Anne’s; this is the place most people from the Fylde would mean if referring to Moss Side. But it would seem strategically more sound, and more menacing, to place Gerard and his host at Marton Moss Side—either Little Marton Moss Side or Great Marton Moss Side—to the south of Blackpool, actually within the Blackpool borough boundary.)

 11. “Oh!” Jones then said. “Perhaps I’ve been misled.
 Chris seized his opportunity. “Oh, well, I think you’ve jumped to the wrong conclusions, David,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any chance of this letter coming from Cooper or being typed on his typewriter. It seems to me it’s quite authentic.”
“Right!” said Jones in reply. “Well, we must make strategic plans, then, if we’re going to have to meet Gerard face to face in the very near future.”
 And they got maps out, and started to plot all the various ways that Gerard might then attack Thornton, and where they could block all the entrances to the town.

 12. So, starting off with an accusing attitude towards Chris, Jones switched to an appearance of giving credence to Chris’s argument. Some time afterwards, he told Chris that he knew all along that it was a big trick, but decided from that point on just to play along with Chris.
 Chris and I, discussing this incident together long afterwards, wanted to believe that Jones actually started to have real doubts about the letter being typed on my typewriter, and started to think that possibly it was a genuine communication from cousin Gerard.
 Trevor, however, went straight to the root of Jones’s thinking: The psychology of all this was that at no time could Jones believe that the letter was genuine because he himself had made the whole Middleton Empire thing up. The Middleton Empire was fiction, so the letter had to be fiction. If we slipped up in our efforts to trick Jones, it was not in placing the Middleton Empire at Moss Side, which Jones mistakenly took to be an error on our part; it was in placing the Middleton Empire anywhere at all.
 However, Jones couldn’t just say to us, “I know you’re having me on, because all this about the Middleton Empire is a load of garbage that I thought up to have you on!”; he had to play our game, pretending that he had proved the letter a fake using forensic evidence. (He was probably bluffing about having that; we figured that Jones wouldn’t have a copy of anything typed on the Mettoy typewriter.)
 When Jones’s suggestion—that is, more or less, that the game was up and so Chris might as well confess—failed to crack Chris’s front of innocence, and indeed when Chris bested Jones over the latter’s unsound Moss Side argument, Jones decided to cover up further that the Middleton Empire was his own made-up tale by taking over the lead in inventing what could be done about something which was an invention of his anyway. He must have thought that there was still some use in having this magical person called Gerard, with whom only he could deal.

 13. The letter stated that Gerard and his troops would be at a certain point at a certain time—perhaps Four Lane Ends, Thornton, at some specified hour on Saturday morning. We planned to be there, to see Jones arrive, armed with Albert his briefcase, and to point the finger at him and laugh at him. That was the whole idea of the joke, to get him to come. We thought he would, and we all trooped out there at the stated time—but he didn’t come. So the whole plan fell to pieces.

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